Solar Walk is an excellent educational app about space and everything in it. With Earth as your home base, you wander the Solar System, cruising the planets and moons and making discoveries along the way.
There are many similar apps, it’s true, but Solar Walk has some little extra touches that make it very appealing. One that I liked, and that my nine-year-old son had to be pulled away from, was the view of man-made satellites in Earth orbit.
You can see exactly where each satellite is right now, where its orbit will take it next, and what job it’s supposed to be doing up there above our heads.
As you take your celestial tour, there are two viewing modes. One displays the planets as you might see them in a picture book, with Jupiter looming huge just behind the Moon, as though someone left it there by mistake. Flick a switch in the options list, though, and a degree of scientific reality is promptly imposed, giving the reader a much better idea of the enormous distances between planets.
There are a handful of built-in video sequences too, explaining things like phases of the Moon, and how solar eclipses happen.
As long as you stay inside our Solar System, Solar Walk provides a decent amount of information about all the heavenly bodies (natural and artificial) encountered. We’re not just talking planets, but all the decent-sized moons too. The 3D models look great on an iPad screen, so you can zoom in close on the ugly potato that is Mars’ moon Phobos, or skim over the surface of Europa (without, of course, attempting any landings there).
Venture further into interstellar space, however, and things get a little sparse. The stars view is pretty, but all you get is a shiny point of light with a name. There’s no info about the highlighted stars, not even their distance from here. It would be nice to see these added, along with details about all the little stuff too – not just the big moons but the little ones too, and some of the other asteroids, rocks and comets that are flying around out there.
That said, you get a decent amount of useful content here for just three dollars, and any kids with even a vague interest in science will love exploring space with it.